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Arizona State University ranked No. 17 globally in patents

June 5, 2018

100 patents move ASU into top 20 in world, spotlighting university's commitment to education, community impact

Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. Read more top stories from 2018 here.

Arizona State University now ranks No. 17 of all universities worldwide for U.S. patents awarded, according to a new report by the U.S. National Academy of Inventors and the Intellectual Property Owners Association. Other universities ranked alongside ASU in the top 20 include MIT, Stanford University, Johns Hopkins University, Harvard and the California Institute of Technology.

ASU earned 100 patents in 2017, up from 62 in 2016, and jumped 13 spots from last year, ranking ahead of Columbia University, the University of Washington and Duke University.

“The rate at which ASU is producing high-quality innovations is a testament to both the caliber of the university’s knowledge enterprise and the success of our technology transfer model, which fast-tracks research from lab benches to commercial application,” said Augie Cheng, CEO of Skysong Innovations, which manages ASU’s technology portfolio. “ASU is truly a world-class research institution.”

The National Academy of Inventors and Intellectual Property Owners Association have published the Top 100 Worldwide Universities Granted U.S. Utility Patents report annually since 2013. The report utilizes data acquired from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to highlight the important role patents play in university research and innovation. The rankings are compiled by calculating the number of utility patents granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that list a university as the first assignee on the issued patent.

“At ASU, our support of inventors is driven by the desire to empower people who are working tirelessly to advance new ideas to have a significant impact on communities around the world,” said Sethuraman Panchanathan, executive vice president of Knowledge Enterprise Development and chief research and innovation officer at ASU. “Our rise in these rankings is reflective of the innovative spirit that permeates ASU fueled by the outstanding ideas advanced by our faculty, researchers and students who are committed to use-inspired research and societal impact.”

Among the 100 patents awarded to ASU are technologies for diagnosing and treating autism, for detecting explosive materials and for monitoring the environment and human health.

New hope for autism diagnosis and treatment

A team led by ASU researchers is taking a novel approach to the search for effective autism treatments by focusing on improving the gut microbiome. The patent aims to provide a better understanding of the association between gut microbes, health and disease states, and provides for potential diagnostic and therapeutic targets. Of high interest are diseases like autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which is a complex neurobiological disorder whose chief manifestations are qualitative impairment in social interaction and communication and restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests and activities. There remains a need for understanding the role of the microbiome in the healthy gut vs. the unhealthy gut for those suffering from ASD.

This patent is for a method that measures the autism-associated changes in intestinal microbial diversity as well as various potential treatments of autism spectrum disorder-gut related symptoms/complications. The ASU research group is led by James Adams, Rosa Krajmalnik-Brown and Dae-Wook Kang.

Detecting improvised explosives

Researchers at ASU have developed a technology for improved detection of improvised peroxide explosives, which can be made from common, inexpensive chemicals that are readily available all over the world. Current sensors are easily damaged and become useless when they come in contact with moisture and saline vapor, as is found in the atmosphere along coastal areas and ports.

ASU’s patented technology is a very thin coating that provides a barrier to moisture and saline vapors, without degrading the sensor’s detection ability. Furthermore, the innovation improves the manufacturing process of the sensors, allowing for smaller detectors to be manufactured more quickly. Potential applications include military force protection, aviation threat detection and live event security. The work is led by Indu Mishra and William Petuskey.

Miniature sensors sniff out environmental contaminants

This ASU invention has made a series of new chemical sensors to sniff out environmental pollutants and, potentially, treat people with asthma as well.

Nitrogen oxides are important environmental pollutants. Their levels in human breath are also key biomarkers of diseases, such as asthma. Existing methods and devices may detect unknown analytes but are generally slow, expensive or bulky. The ASU team, led by N.J. Tao, has developed a new, miniaturized sensor that may have applications not only in environmental monitoring, but also as noninvasive medical diagnosis and management devices for asthma and other diseases. The sensors have been configured or used for lab-based analytical devices, or mobile handheld or portable chemical sensors and tasks to monitor in the field or clinic.

Joseph Caspermeyer and Derek Sarley contributed to this story. Top image by Andy DeLisle/ASU

Leslie Minton

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RFK remains an enigma 50 years after his death

June 5, 2018

ASU professor reflects on the life and legacy of Robert F. Kennedy on the 50th anniversary of his assassination

The figure of Robert F. Kennedy casts a long shadow, equally split between what was and what could have been. 

That dichotomy doesn’t appear to have changed 50 years after Kennedy's life was cut short June 6, 1968, a day after being mortally wounded by an assassin’s gun.

Nicknamed Bobby, he was called the "runt" of the Kennedy clan, but he also was the most tenacious. He famously served under his brother President John F. Kennedy, first as campaign manager, then later as attorney general. After an assassin took John’s life on Nov. 22, 1963, Bobby attempted to restore the Kennedy name to the White House when he ran for president in 1968, but Bobby’s life was also cut short by a bullet. Jordanian national Sirhan Sirhan shot him in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. He was 42.

ASU Now consulted Keith D. Miller, an English professor and interim director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, to discuss the life and legacy of Robert F. Kennedy on the 50th anniversary of his death. In his research, Miller mainly focuses on the rhetoric and songs of the civil rights movement. He said Robert F. Kennedy was often viewed as a stand-in for his brother, but was coming into his own at the end of his short life.  

Man in yellow shirt

Keith D. Miller

Question: Robert Kennedy doesn’t seem to enjoy the same legacy as his brother John Kennedy. But there still seems to be an air of mystery surrounding him 50 years after his death. Why is that?

Answer: It is possible to think that Robert Kennedy would have been elected president in 1968. If that were the case, no one knows what he would have accomplished. Therefore, he seems a mysterious figure.  

Q: What kind of job did RFK do as attorney general from 1961–1964, and what were some highlights (and lowlights) of his tenure in office?

A: President John Kennedy sidelined Vice President Lyndon Johnson. President Kennedy selected his brother Robert Kennedy to serve not only as his attorney general, but also the de facto vice president. Even though foreign policy does not come under the purview of the attorney general, Robert Kennedy played an important role in resolving the Cuban Missile Crisis. Because he was the president's brother, everyone realized that he stood above every other member of the cabinet, and he was often viewed as a stand-in for his brother.  

As attorney general, he told Martin Luther King Jr. to stop using children in nonviolent marches in Birmingham [Alabama] in spring 1963. Yet images of the police in Birmingham using fire hoses and police dogs on the children proved pivotal in gaining public sympathy for the struggle against segregation. President Kennedy did not offer an important civil rights proposal after the Freedom Rides of 1961 or after James Meredith integrated Ole Miss in 1962. He only did that after two years in the White House. He did that after nonviolent protests in Birmingham and after Birmingham spawned widespread, similar nonviolent demonstrations in the South — all of which triggered enormous sympathy for King in the North. Birmingham pushed President Kennedy off the fence on civil rights. 

Robert Kennedy also approved of the request of J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, to wiretap the telephones of Martin Luther King Jr. and his close advisers. Further, after John Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, Robert Kennedy fell into a depression that lasted for months, during which time he did little work, even though he was still attorney general.

Q: RFK was assassinated in early June, several months before the 1968 presidential election in November. Given that Richard Nixon ultimately won that election by a large margin over Democrat Hubert Humphrey, do you think Kennedy would have defeated Nixon had he lived?

A: In 1968 the Democratic Party only held presidential primaries in 13 states, and Robert Kennedy only won four of those primaries. The delegates from the other states were chosen by party leaders and a party machinery that was largely controlled by President Lyndon Johnson and Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who was running against Kennedy. In a recent book, "LBJ'S 1968," Kyle Longley of ASU argues that Johnson seriously controlled the party and the convention in 1968. I personally think it is highly doubtful that Robert Kennedy, had he lived, could have won the Democratic nomination in 1968.

To complete the hypothetical exercise: Even if he were able to do that, it would have proven difficult for him to defeat Richard Nixon, the GOP nominee. Nixon edged Humphrey, in part by claiming that he had a "secret plan" to end the war in Vietnam. But, four years later, with the war raging on and no end in sight, Nixon won re-election with an avalanche of votes that buried George McGovern, the anti-war Democratic nominee. So it would not have been easy for the anti-war Kennedy to defeat Nixon in 1968.

Q: Given that he was never able to reach the White House, what is his legacy today?

A: Robert Kennedy did not initially come close to understanding the huge injustice of segregation and racism in the U.S. He also maintained a childish hatred of Lyndon Johnson, despite Johnson's ability to pass the most important civil rights bills ever — the Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act and Open Housing Act — plus Medicare, Head Start and the Immigration and Naturalization Act. Yet, like [Abraham] Lincoln, Robert Kennedy grew while in high office. He became sensitive to the plight of children in the Mississippi Delta who were literally starving. He also adopted the unpopular position of opposing the Vietnam War, which, ironically, was designed and orchestrated by President Kennedy's cabinet secretaries and advisers. 

Robert Kennedy's ability to grow markedly in office contrasts with what happens to almost all other elected officials, who are too rigid, too timid, too defensive and too egotistical to broaden and deepen their understanding of the human race. I think his ability to blossom while in office is easily his most important legacy.     

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons